|Christian faith is Easter faith
famous eighteenth century sceptic Voltaire is reported to have said,
“It would be easy to start a new religion to compete with
Christianity. All the founder would have to do is die and then be
raised from the dead.” Voltaire was no friend of the Christian faith
and I am sure he meant his comment to be ironic, but it is also very
perceptive. Jesus’ resurrection is the foundation of our faith.
Christianity stands or falls on the factualness of this event.
Christian faith is really Easter faith because it is all based on
what happened that first Easter.
According to the New Testament record, Jesus’ resurrection from
the dead did two things that nothing else could have done. First, it
confirmed Jesus’ identity. We should recall what He said to those
who asked Him for a sign to prove His authority: “Destroy this
temple and I will raise it again in three days.” (St Jn: 2 vs 19).
Jesus was speaking metaphorically, not about the literal temple but,
as John explains, about the temple of His body. Nobody really
understood Him at that time. It is obvious from the way they mistook
Him that they were all quite mystified. But Jesus’ disciples somehow
recalled what He had said and realised what He meant after He did
rise from the dead. The key point is that the resurrection is the
sign Jesus offered to establish his identity and to prove His
authority. Jesus predicted His own death. There’s nothing unusual
about that. Many great men have had premonitions about their own
end. But Jesus also predicted His resurrection from death and that
isn’t usual at all, especially if it actually happened.
A second thing that the resurrection did was to create the
disciples’ faith. It is important to note that the fact of Jesus’
resurrection is based on the testimony of sceptics. Listen again to
what St John says:
“After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he
had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus
had spoken.” (St. Jn 2 vs 22, italics mine). This statement is an
insertion into the story, an editorial comment by John, the gospel
writer, who is speaking here from a post-Easter perspective. The
point is that they were not expecting Jesus to rise. They weren’t
prepared for it; they weren’t even inclined to believe it at first.
The story of Jesus’ whole life and ministry, including His death
and resurrection, is told as it happened in a way that is natural
and artless, not invented. Some of those who disbelieved the
resurrection say that Jesus’ resurrection was a story made up by the
disciples to keep their faith alive. The historical account is
exactly the opposite. The Apostles’ own testimony is not that they
invented the story of the resurrection but that they themselves had
to be convinced of it. Faith in Jesus did not create the
resurrection. Rather, the resurrection created faith in Jesus.
Christian faith is certainly Easter faith. I am a Christian today
because I believe that, just as sure as he died on the cross, Jesus
also rose from the dead. And because He rose again, Jesus is shown
to be God. He is not only to be trusted, He is to be worshipped and
served. But Easter faith is more than just faith that Jesus arose.
It is also faith in the truths that His resurrection proves.
Because Jesus arose, right will triumph over wrong in the end. It
could be argued that the death of Jesus Christ is history’s greatest
crime. He was put to death by judicial murder in the grossest
perversion of justice. Everyone involved agreed that He was
innocent. But still they crucified Him. Jesus’ death was the supreme
example of how life can be in a world where the innocent are done in
by the guilty, and the weak ground under by the strong, where good
people suffer, and where trust is overcome by lies, and the poor are
always the ones to be victimised. But the resurrection says
otherwise. In raising Jesus, God has reversed man’s judgement. He
has established the truth, vindicating the innocent and exalting the
righteous, as He will do for everyone some day. Because Jesus rose
from the dead, we believe that justice will be done in the end and
will be seen to have been done. Every wrong will be righted, with
all evil overthrown and goodness rewarded. In the face of the
world’s injustice, Easter faith produces not cynicism, but hope.
Because of the resurrection of Jesus, life is full of meaning and
purpose. A news magazine once published an article on the meaning of
life, in which a number of people were asked to respond to the,
question, “Why are we here?” Two of the answers I found very
striking! They were from very different people, but they were
remarkably similar. One was from a taxi driver, who said, “We’re
here to die, just live and die.” The other answer came from a well
known musician. His response to the question, “Why are we here?”
“No, why, just here!” If death is the end, then they are right.
There is really no answer, no point to anything, no hope. But if
Jesus has risen from the dead, then there is something else to say.
We have a future, and because we have a future, our present has
meaning. In the face of the emptiness of earthly existence without
Christ, Easter faith tells us not to despair but to hope.
Lastly, because Jesus Christ rose from the dead, for Christians
death leads to everlasting life. Near the end of his life, the
Apostle Paul offered this word of encouragement to his young friend
“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.” (2 Tim: 2 vs 8). It is
not just that Jesus rose from the dead long ago, but that He is
risen here and now. He is alive. He is with us and because of that
even in the face of death, Easter faith produces not fear but hope.
In April 1945, a few days before the end of the war in Germany, a
special order went out to the Plossenberg Concentration Camp to
execute a prisoner named Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who had been arrested
several years earlier for his anti-Nazi activities. It was a Sunday
morning. As the footsteps of the execution detail sounded in the
corridor outside, Bonhoeffer looked up at the little circle of
prisoners whom he had been leading in prayer. “This is the end” he
said, “but for me the beginning of life.” Easter failh, faith in
Jesus who died and rose again, makes that possible, and much more,
for all who believe!
Rev Charles N. Jansz